Mothers no longer the main source of infants’ whooping cough

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cases of whooping cough have been on the rise in the United States in recent years; and this shift in the way it is transmitted is probably due to more incidents of the disease among school-aged children.

Babies are more likely to contract whooping cough from their siblings, new research shows. It was previously thought that Mom was the most common source of whooping cough among infants.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection. It is most likely to affect infants too young to complete the full course of vaccinations, and teenagers and adults whose immunities have weakened. In many people, whooping cough is marked by a severe hacking cough, followed by a high-pitched intake of air that sounds like a “whoop.”

  • Once someone has contracted whooping cough, it can take about seven to 10 days for symptoms to appear. They’re usually mild to begin with and can resemble the common cold.
  • After a week or two, symptoms worsen — thick mucus accumulates in your airways, causing uncontrollable coughing.

Deaths associated with whooping cough are rare, but most commonly occur in the cases of infants.

Because most deaths associated with whooping cough occur in babies, it is crucial for mothers, and other people who will be in close contact with the baby, to get vaccinated again. Most people receive the full course of vaccinations for whooping cough as children, between the ages of two months and 6 years; however, the CDC says that whooping cough immunity slowly wears off each year after a child’s final dose.

How to Prevent Whooping Cough in Infants

The best way to protect babies from contracting the disease is for mothers to receive a whooping cough booster shot, known as Tdap, during the third trimester of pregnancy. If this precaution is taken, the infant will be born with some of Mom’s antibodies against whooping cough, getting short-term protection until the infant is old enough to receive the vaccine around two months of age.

The CDC recommends all Americans age 11 and older have one Tdap booster shot. Pregnant women are the only group advised to receive more than one booster shot. The Tdap booster shot is available at all American Family Care locations.

It is important to note that antibodies against whooping cough do not endure at a high enough level from one pregnancy to the next, which is why women must receive the Tdap booster during every pregnancy.

Studies have shown the Tdap booster vaccine to be safe during pregnancy. Dr. Siobhan Dolan, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, and a medical advisor to the March of Dimes states, “The notion that vaccinating during pregnancy will do harm is wrong,” she said. “It’s exactly the opposite. Vaccinating protects women and their babies.”

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